Savoring The Rijsttafel (Dreams, Heritage Edition 2013)

Many may not realize that the influence of colorful presentation of Minangkabau dishes from West Sumatra origin inspired the creation of rijsttafel, a novel feast designed during the Dutch colonial era almost two centuries ago in Indonesia. 

Rijsttafel, literally means ‘rice table’, is a Dutch-colonial originated banquet encompassing famous dishes from the many islands of Indonesia. What makes rijsttafel different is the special feature of a dozen of waiters or waitresses involved for this feast and each of them serving different dish at same time. For rich Dutch plantation owners, rijsttafel involved everyone they can gather around their households from the maids, chauffeurs, and even gardeners to act as the servers.

On larger rijsttafel banquets, the Dutch even incorporated up to 30 or 40 dishes at one time. Not only that it became a personal pride for Dutch colonials, rijsttafel was also meant to impress foreign dignitaries during diplomacy or official visits with such an impressive vast array of dishes rarely seen before and came from the richest yet biggest archipelago in the world.

Oasis - Serving Rijstaffel 2

During its heyday, history recorded two famous hotels in Indonesia that served rijsttafel. The first one was Hotel Homann from Bandung which now still can be seen although the façade already underwent a unique art deco transformation back in the 1930s. Mrs. Homann was said to serve the best rijsttafel in town and renowned for it especially after Bandung achieved a stature as a city for colonial holiday retreats. The second hotel known to serve rijsttafel was the beautiful Hotel des Indes during the old days of Batavia (now Jakarta) known to many with its exemplary hospitality, though we can no longer found the hotel anymore as it was demolished a few decades ago to make way for a shopping complex.

It was believed that after the transition of Indonesian government, the rijsttafel became somehow extinct as the nationalism sentiment made Indonesians remove any colonial influences remaining within their daily lives. Today, probably rijsttafel is much more popular in restaurants around The Netherlands, USA, and as far as South Africa or probably other former Dutch colonies.

Back in 1979, an attempt to revive the rijsttafel experience was made by Oasis, a luxurious fine-dining establishment in Jakarta, proved to be hugely successful. With its well-maintained classic façade used to be owned by a Dutch millionaire from the early 20th century and its excellence in many gastronomy aspects, Oasis has been serving rijsttafel ever since and popularize it further by serving famous personages such as Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Mahathir Muhammad, Zinedine Zidane, and many more. Until today, no other restaurant in Jakarta except some in Bali that serve rijsttafel but perhaps not all of these establishments featured the one dozen servers for it.

Oasis - Dining Room

After all, the individual dishes that came from all over Indonesia are ultimately the most important part of rijsttafel. While there’s no real pattern of what should be served in a rijsttafel but clearly the famous satays from Indonesia have always been traditionally stars of the show. One usually can browse through various satay from chicken, lamb (sate mentul), beef, and fish (sate lilit).

Other than these fantastic delicacies, we can often found beef rendang, dendeng balado (thinly sliced dried beef with chili flakes), beef empal (shredded beef with spices), grilled fish, grilled chicken, grilled prawns, beef stew, fried duck and other main dishes of Indonesian origin.

For the sides we can also enjoy a wide range of dishes such as gado gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), steamed beancurds in banana leaves, fried beancurds with vegetable fillings, stir-fried long beans, serundeng (shredded and roasted coconut), spring rolls, fritters, and a lot more. Even for the rice, you can find several versions from white, white with corn, red, nasi tutug oncom (steamed with oncom and shallots) and many other creations unfamiliarly heard before.

Oasis - Lounge

It’s pretty much impossible to describe the contents of rijsttafel as the combination may vary every time and the options itself are basically limitless as Indonesian dishes are probably the most diverse cuisine in the whole world. Again, that’s the reason why larger banquets may serve up to 40 dishes at one time.

From the inception of the concept, rijsttafel was designed to achieve many aspects not only from the dishes variety. In an era where gastronomic features were not yet familiarly encountered, rijsttafel had achieved a high level of complexity not only from flavors but also the colors and the textures. Indonesian dishes we know now are affluent in fragrance and taste from sweet to spicy, from sour to savory, and all using spices indigenous of this country. Additionally, these created a harmony between the many textures of the dishes as well. Much to that era’s surprise, all of these came from a single corner of the earth far from the Old World and everything assimilated into a splendor of one single entity worth its weight in gold for the experience.

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Published in Dreams, Heritage Edition 2013

Photos courtesy of Oasis Restaurant, Jakarta

The Art of Royal Thai (Dreams, Heritage Edition 2013)

Centuries of colorful culinary heritage with bold characteristics and richness like nowhere else has made Thai cuisine one of the most sought after delicacies. The Royal Thai Cuisine proudly becomes a part of it and plays an important role as the envoy of refined cuisines the world over. 

Differentiated into four regional cuisines, Thai cuisine with all its originalities absorbs influences from neighbors such as Indochina countries as we know today, Malayan peninsula, Yunnan of China, and even European powers during colonial era. Even so, the pivotal role in the whole identity creation of Thai cuisine came mostly from the Central region where capitals located and royalties resided since the dawn of the Siamese kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya up until what is now the modern Thailand.

Within the immense influence of the Central region’s cuisine, one must not neglect that some part of it had been painted by the existence of Royal Thai Cuisine or dishes served in palaces and aristocratic households with specific standards in recipes, compositions, and aesthetics. Tracing back during Ayutthaya era that signified the emergence of Royal Thai Cuisine until this very moment, each sovereign had their own pick of what they preferred to eat, which may be similar with Thai dishes that we know, but the royals have a unique custom of dining solitarily unlike other kingdoms where usually the families dine together. In addition, there’s no standardized version on what particular dishes that had to be served for Royal Thai Cuisine.

Aside from being served in set from appetizer, soup, main dish, and dessert, Royal Thai Cuisine uses high quality ingredients and is presented beautifully by using the finest vessels available and fruit carvings. In terms of taste, there are no extremes such as too spicy or too sour as everything kept in balance and followed the original recipes.

Another rule of thumb is that everything on the plate must be edible. In the case of fish for example, it had to be deboned first and then reconstructed again as a whole fish, or if it was a fruit, then it should be deseeded first and served as bite size pieces appropriately. Everything is prepared painstakingly detailed and involves a large number of staff in the royal kitchen as all these refinements are exactly what set Royal Thai Cuisine apart from others.

Although basically each dish in Royal Thai Cuisine can be found commonly, but there is actually one that came off from an authentic idea during the reign of King Rama II two centuries ago and eaten particularly during the hot summer months.

Kao Chae (Courtesy of Eugene Goes to Thailand)
Kao Chae (Courtesy of Eugene Goes to Thailand)

Kao chae is a bowl of rice soaked in candle smoke-scented water and decorated with jasmine petals. The idea might sound simple but the preparation is actually meticulous such as to cleanse the rice from starch by adding cold water many times after the rice cooked and left to achieve room temperature first, then there’s the use of rain water for the soup, and how to manually infuse the water with scented candle’s smoke.

From there, the preparation of side dishes is no less complex though most of them are fried dishes. First, there are young green peppers stuffed with pork, herbs, and spices then laced with egg after fried. Next, deep-fried kapi (shrimp paste) balls which beforehand were seasoned with shallots, garlic, palm sugar, and Thai-native wild gingers. Then there is also a selection of beef, pork, or fish torn into threads then flavored with fish oil and palm sugar before being deep-fried. Aside from those, there are also less common side dishes for kao chae such as boiled salted egg or deep-fried Thai shallots stuffed with dried fish.

Nowadays, Royal Thai Cuisine is available also in restaurants but if commoners wish to see how it all prepared publicly, then Songkran (Thai New Year) festival would be the right time. During this festival, talented chefs from all over Thailand gather and cook the best of their abilities for the king. The event takes place on April 13 for three days only every year and the many variations in Royal Thai Cuisine during Songkran festival may be something that you do not want to miss.

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Published in Dreams, Heritage Edition 2013

Photos courtesy of Blue Elephant & Eugene Goes to Thailand

Sweet Surrender: An Interview with Chef Odie Djamil (Tiger Tales Indonesia, July – Sept 2013)

Chef Odie Djamil - Interview

Obrol-obrol santai Rian Farisa bersama chef muda, Odie Djamil, tentang eksperimennya dengan molecular dessert dan tentunya, macaron!

Berawal dari belajar kuliner secara otodidak, Odie Djamil (@odiedjamil) kini meniti karir independen sebagai ahli pembuat kue macaron, Lifestyle Studio Pastry Instructor, Chef/ Host untuk acara Cake Story di Kompas TV dan Dapur Warna di Trans7. Sebagai mantan sous chef di Coquelicot, sebuah restoran Perancis di Jakarta, Odie terinspirasi sang oma yang hobi memasak ketika ia kecil. Bahu membahu dengan rekan-rekan seperjuangannya, sejak 2011 Odie membentuk Chef Nation, perkumpulan para pemasak yang senang berjualan berbagai kreasi kuliner. Odie menceritakan bagaimana ia begitu menikmati membagi waktu di antara kesibukannya yang menyenangkan ini.

Q: MENGAPA ODIE MEMILIH MACARON DI ANTARA SEKIAN BANYAK KUE LAINNYA?

Awalnya gara-gara saya membeli buku resep ‘Just Desserts’ karya Daniel Tay – the guy behind Bakerzin. Saya baca, saya coba, dan gagal. Penasaran, saya coba terus hingga tetap gagal sampai 13 kali. Akhirnya saya menemukan rasio yang tepat dari sebuah riset seorang blogger Australia yang melakukan perbandingan dari berbagai macaron karya para chef terkenal di dunia. Berbekal ketepatan rasio antara icing sugar, almond, putih telur, dan gula, maka akhirnya latihan-latihan saya mendatangkan hasil dan mulailah saya berjualan macaron.

Q: PERNAH COBA MEMBUAT MACARON DENGAN RASA LOKAL?

Saya pernah mencoba membuat macaron dengan campuran jambal, telur asin, dan petai gara-gara tantangan seorang teman! Jangan tanya hasilnya. Haha..

Q: SELAIN MACARON, PASTRY APA YANG TENGAH ODIE GELUTI BELAKANGAN INI?

Belakangan saya senang bereksperimen dengan segala sesuatu hingga membuat sponge cake dengan cara molecular. Pada dasarnya bahan sama seperti sponge cake biasa, tapi dalam proses pembuatannya saya memakai nitrogen dan dimasak di microwave dengan kekuatan tinggi selama 30 detik. Saya terinspirasi chef-chef keren seperti Johnny Iuzzini dan Sadaharu Aoki dan ahli molecular seperti Andrian Ishak dan Heston Blumenthal. Kadang-kadang ilmu baru ini saya coba demonstrasikan di acara Cake Story yang saya bawakan secara rutin di Kompas TV.

Q: BAGAIMANA DENGAN CERITA DI BALIK CHEF NATION?

Mulanya saya dan Zinnia yang pernah kerja bersama di Coquelicot memang sudah berencana membangun sesuatu. Tidak lama bertemulah saya dengan Ray Janson ketika kita berlomba masak di Pantry Magic. Dari situ kami berkenalan juga dengan teman Ray yang baru pulang dari Paris yaitu Isaura. Akhirnya kami duduk bersama dan berencana untuk membentuk Chef Nation di mana kami bisa sama-sama berkreasi dengan kemampuan masak kami masing-masing yang unik. Setelah itu kami tampil rutin di Brightspot Market (acara fashion tahunan dari para desainer independen) dan berjualan kreasi kami di sana.

Q: ADA RENCANA APA SAJA KE DEPANNYA?

Untuk rencana dekat, saya dan Ray (Janson) akan berangkat ke acara eksebisi produk local Indonesia di London akhir tahun nanti dan tandem memasak untuk gala dinner. Saya juga ingin mendirikan sebuah restoran khusus dessert seperti 2 am Dessert Bar di Singapura dalam beberapa tahun ke depan. Meskipun penggemar dessert terbatas, tapi sekarang ini masyarakat sudah mulai senang untuk spend lebih membeli dessert setelah makan di restoran.

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Tiger Tales Indonesia Jul-Sept 2013 - Cover

Published in Tiger Tales Indonesia (Mandala Airlines inflight magazine) – July – Sept 2013 Edition
http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/tiger-tales-mandala/1416/july-2013